Too good to be true, p.16
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       Too Good to Be True, p.16
 

          
Page 16

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  But Brother Against Brother took its battles very seriously. We had about two hundred volunteers, and each encounter was planned to be as historically accurate as possible. The Yankee soldiers fired, and Margaret dropped to the ground with a roll of her sea-green eyes. I took one in the shoulder, screamed and collapsed next to her. “It will take me hours to finally kick the bucket,” I told my sister. “Blood poisoning from the lead. No treatment options, really. Even if I was taken to a field hospital, I’d probably die. So either way, long and painful. ”

  “I repeat. This is so queer,” Margaret said, flipping open her cell phone to check messages.

  “No farbies!” I barked.

  “What?”

  “The phone! You can’t have anything modern at a reenactment. And if this is so queer, why did you come?” I asked.

  “Dad kept harassing Junie—” Margaret’s long-suffering legal secretary “—until she finally begged me to say yes just to get him to stop calling and dropping by. Besides, I wanted to get out of the house. ”

  “Well, you’re here, so quit whining. ” I reached for her hand, imagining a Rebel soldier seeking comfort from his fallen brother. “We’re outside, it’s a beautiful day, we’re lying around in the sweet-smelling clover. ” Margaret didn’t answer. I glanced over. She was studying her cell phone, scowling, which wasn’t an unusual expression for her, but her lips trembled in a suspicious manner. Like she was about to cry. I sat up abruptly. “Margs? Is everything okay?”

  “Oh, things are peachy,” she answered.

  “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” my father asked, striding toward us.

  “Sorry, Dad. I mean, sorry, General Jackson,” I said, flopping obediently back in the grass.

  “Margaret, please. Put that away. A lot of people have worked very hard to make this authentic. ”

  Margaret rolled her eyes. “Bull Run in Connecticut. So authentic. ”

  Dad grunted in disgust. A fellow officer rushed to his side. “What shall we do, sir?” he asked.

  “Sir, we will give them the bayonet!” Dad barked. A little thrill shuddered through me at the historic words. What a war! The two officers conferred, then walked away to engage the gunmen on the hillside.

  “I might need a break from Stuart,” Margaret said.

  I sat bolt upright once again, tripping a fellow Confederate who was relocating my cannon. “Sorry,” I said to him.

  “Go get ’em. ” He and another guy hefted the cannon and wheeled it off amid sporadic gunfire and the cries of the commanding officers. “Margaret, are you serious?”

  “I need some distance,” she answered.

  “What happened?”

  She sighed. “Nothing. That’s the problem. We’ve been married for seven years, right? And nothing’s different.

  We do the same things day after day. Come home. Stare at each other over dinner. Lately, when he’s talking about work or something on the news, I look at him and just think, ‘Is this it?’”

  An early butterfly landed on the brass button of my uniform, flexed its wings and fluttered off. A Confederate officer rushed by. “Are you girls dead?” he asked.

  “Oh, yes, we are. Sorry. ” I lay back down, pulling Margaret’s hand until she joined me. “Is there anything else, Margs?” I asked.

  “No. ” Her eyes flickered away from me, belying her words. But Margaret was not one to offer something before she was ready. “It’s just…I just wonder if he really loves me. If I really love him. If this is what marriage is or if we just picked the wrong person. ”

  We lay in the grass, saying nothing more. My throat felt tight. I loved Stuart, a quiet, gentle man. I had to admit, I didn’t know him terribly well. I saw him sporadically at work, usually from afar. The Manning students loved him, that was for sure. But family dinners tended to revolve around Mom and Dad bickering or Mémé’s soliloquies on what was wrong with the world today, and usually Stuart didn’t get a word in edgewise. But what I did know was that he was kind, smart and very considerate toward my sister. One might even say, if pressed, that he adored her a little too much, deferring to her on just about everything.

  The sound of fleeing Union soldiers and the cries of triumphant Rebel soldiers filled the air.

  “Can we go now?” Margaret asked.

  “No. Dad’s just now assembling the thirteen guns. Wait for it…wait for it…” I raised myself up on my elbows so I could see, grinning in anticipation.

  “There stands Jackson, a veritable stone wall!” came the cry of Rick Jones, who was playing Colonel Bee.

  “Huzzah! Huzzah!” Though supposedly dead, I couldn’t help joining in the cry. Margaret shook her head, but she was grinning.

  “Grace, you really need to get a life,” she said, standing up.

  “So what does Stuart think?” I asked, taking her proffered hand.

  “He says to do whatever I need to sort things out in my head. ” Margaret shook her head, whether in admiration or disgust. Knowing Margaret, it was probably disgust. “So, Grace, listen. Do you think I could stay with you for a week or two? Maybe a little longer?”

  “Sure,” I said. “As long as you need. ”

  “Oh, and hey, listen to this. I’m fixing you up with this guy. Lester. I met him at Mom’s show last week. He’s a metalsmith or some such shit. ”

  “A metalsmith? Named Lester?” I asked. “Oh, Margaret, come on. ” Then I paused. Surely he couldn’t be worse than my veteran friend. “Is he cute?”

  “Well, I don’t know. Not cute, exactly, but attractive in his own way. ”

  “Lester the metalsmith, attractive in his own way. That does not sound promising. ”

  “So? Beggars can’t be choosy. And you said you wanted to meet someone, so you’re meeting someone. Okay?

  Okay. I’ll tell him to call. ”

  “Fine,” I muttered. “Hey, Margs, did you run down that name I gave you?”

  “What name?”

  “The ex-con? Callahan O’ Shea, who lives next door to me? He embezzled over a million dollars. ”

  “No, I didn’t get around to it. Sorry. I’ll try to this week. Embezzlement. That’s not so bad, is it?”

  “Well, it’s not good, Margs. And it was over a million dollars. ”

  “Still better than rape and murder,” Margs said cheerfully. “Look, there’s donuts. Thank God, I’m starving. ”

  And with that, we tramped off the field where the rest of the troops already stood, drinking Starbucks and eating Krispy Kreme donuts. Granted, it wasn’t historically accurate, but it sure beat mule meat and hoecake.

  HAT NIGHT, I SPENT AN HOUR taming my thorny locks and donning a new outfit. I had two back-to-back dates via eCommitment…well, not dates exactly, but meetings to see if there was a reason to try a date. The first was with Jeff, who sounded very promising indeed. He owned his own business in the entertainment industry, and his picture was very pleasing. Like me, he enjoyed hiking, gardening and historical movies. Alas, his favorite was 300, so what did that say? But I decided to overlook it for the moment. Just what his business was, I wasn’t sure.

  Entertainment industry…hmm. Maybe he was an agent or something. Or owned a record label or a club. It sounded kind of glamorous, really.

  Jeff and I were meeting for a drink in Farmington, and then I was moving onto appetizers with Leon. Leon was a science teacher, so I already knew we’d have lots to talk about…in fact, our three e-mails thus far had been about teaching, the joys and the potholes, and I was looking forward to hearing more about his personal life.

  I drove to the appointed place, one of those chain places near a mall that have a lot of faux Tiffany and sports memorabilia. I recognized Jeff from his picture—he was short and kind of cute, brown hair, brown eyes, an appealing dimple in his left cheek. We gave each other that awkward lean-in hug where we weren’t sure how far to go and
ended up touching cheeks like society matrons. But Jeff acknowledged the awkwardness with a little smile, which made me like him. We followed the maitre d’ to a little table, ordered a glass of wine and started in on the small talk, and it was then that things started to go south.

  “So, Jeff, I’ve been wondering about your job. What exactly do you do?” I asked, sipping my wine.

  “I own my own business,” he said.

  “Right. What kind?” I asked.

  “Entertainment. ” He smiled furtively and straightened the salt and pepper shakers.

  I paused. “Ah. And how exactly do you entertain?”

  He grinned. “Like this!” he said, leaning back. Then, with a flourish and a sudden, sharp flick of his hands, he set the table on fire.

  Later, after the firefighters had put out the flames and deemed it safe to return to the restaurant, a large portion of which was covered in the foamy fire retardant that had doused the “entertainment,” Jeff turned beseechingly to me. “Doesn’t anyone love magic anymore?” he asked, looking at me, as confused as a kicked puppy.

  “You have the right to remain silent,” a police officer duly recited.

  “I didn’t mean the fire to be so big,” Jeff informed the cop, who didn’t seem to care much.

  “So you’re a magician?” I asked, fiddling with the burnt end of a lock of my hair, which had been slightly singed.

  “It’s my dream,” he said as the officer cuffed him. “Magic is my life. ”

  “Ah,” I said. “Best of luck with that. ”

  Was it me, or did a lot of men leave in handcuffs when I was around? First Callahan O’ Shea, now Jeff. I had to hand it to Callahan—he looked a lot better in restraints than poor Jeff, who resembled a crated ferret. Yes, when it came to handcuffs, Callahan O’ Shea was—I stopped that train of thought. I had another date. Leon the teacher was next in line, so on I went, glad that the firefighters of Farmington were so efficient that I wasn’t even late.

  Leon was much more promising. Balding in that attractive Ed Harris way, wonderful sparkling blue eyes and a boyish laugh, he seemed delighted in me, which of course I found very appealing. We talked for a half hour or so, filling each other in on our teaching jobs, bemoaning helicopter parents and extolling the bright minds of children.

  “So, Grace, let me ask you something,” he said, pushing our potato skins aside to touch my hand, making me glad I’d splurged on a manicure/pedicure this week. His face grew serious. “What would you say is the most important thing in your life?”

  “My family,” I answered. “We’re very close. I have two sisters, one older, one—”

  “I see. What else, Grace? What would come next?”

  “Um, well…my students, I guess. I really love them, and I want so much for them to be excited about history.

  They—”

  “Uh-huh. Anything else, Grace?”

  “Well,” I said, a bit miffed at being cut off twice now, “sure. I mean, I volunteer with a senior citizen group, we do ballroom dancing with my friend Julian, who’s a dance teacher. Sometimes I read to some of them, the ones who can’t read for themselves. ”

  “Are you religious?” Leon asked.

  I paused. I was definitely one of those who’d classify herself as spiritual rather than religious. “Sort of. Yes, I mean. I go to church, oh, maybe once a month or so, and I—”

  “I’m wondering what your feelings are on God. ”

  I blinked. “God?” Leon nodded. “Um, well God is…well, He’s great. ” I imagined God rolling His eyes at me.

  Come on, Grace. I said, “Let there be light,” and bada-bing! There was light! Can’t you do better than “He’s great,” for God’s sake? Get it? For God’s sake? (I always imagined God had a great sense of humor. He’d have to, right?) Leon’s bright (fanatical?) blue eyes narrowed. “Yes, He is great. Are you a Christian? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
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KRISTAN HIGGINS SERIES:

Blue Heron
Gideons Cove

 

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